Six years ago, the city of Las Vegas didn’t have a single team in the four major North American sports leagues (football, basketball, baseball, hockey), and its ties with these leagues mostly involved side events, such as those organized by the NBA in the summer. But in these six years everything has changed. There are now two professional men’s teams in Las Vegas and one of them, the Vegas Golden Knights, just won the Stanley Cup, which is the National Hockey League (NHL) title. In a few years a third team will arrive, in baseball, while in the next few months the city will host for the first time a Formula 1 Grand Prix and the NFL Super Bowl, two of the biggest sporting events a city can aspire to.
Las Vegas will then occupy more and more space in North American sports, and not just for men: last year he won his first WNBA title (the women’s NBA) with the Aces, who already reached the finals in 2020. It’s a role the city has been preparing for in recent years and paradoxically it is also believed to have been favored by the 2018 sentence with which the Supreme Court had effectively removed the monopoly on sports gambling in the United States.
It should be remembered that Las Vegas was founded in the middle of a desert at the beginning of the twentieth century and that in the last century US law has allowed it not only to be the only state without major gambling bans, but also to have the monopoly of the sector and become a specific destination for many other rather characteristic reasons (for example, Nevada already introduced the most permissive divorce law in the United States in 1931).
In this way the city grew and prospered around gambling, which already in the mid-twentieth century created a huge induced up to quadruple its population thanks to the arrival of people from neighboring states in search of opportunities and cheap homes market. But Las Vegas, especially in recent decades, has also had to face a long series of problems closely related to these characteristics. The 2008 crisis, for example, seriously compromised its economic model largely centered on gambling, therefore with no major alternatives available.
After having only partially solved its many problems – corruption, unemployment (in 2010 it exceeded 15 percent), real estate crises and degradation – the local authorities have identified a possible new outlet for the economy in the sports market, also in consideration the characteristics of a city built to host events and which for decades has offered the highest concentration of hospital beds in the United States.
So we started from the missing structures, the sports ones. In 2013, the plans for what is now the T-Mobile Arena were presented, the facility that hosts major combat sports events (above all boxing, UFC and WWE) and the Golden Knights home games. In 2017, however, construction began on Allegiant Stadium, one of the most advanced sports facilities in the world, in use since 2020. It cost almost 2 billion dollars, but over 700 million were guaranteed by public funds: it is entirely covered with over 70,000 seats, has two stackable playgrounds, 128 suites and 44 private stages.
At the same time, the city has thought about how to fill these stadiums. In 2016 he got from the NHL a so-called expansion team, i.e. a newly founded team — the Golden Knights — to increase the number of participants in the league. The other major American leagues, however, had no plans expansion teamand so the city has made itself available with all possible means – economic, administrative and infrastructural – to welcome teams from other cities in the country (in North American sport, the owners of the teams can decide to change cities to try to relaunch themselves in markets considered more palatable).
In this process it is believed that Las Vegas was helped reflexively by the annulment of the ban on sports betting decided by the Supreme Court in 2018, because what initially seemed like a possible damage to the city instead went in its favor, both from one point from an economic and image point of view. Since then, in fact, more than thirty states have legalized sports betting and the large sector agencies based in Las Vegas have managed to enter these new markets thanks to their long experience. The lifting of the ban then helped bring many organizations closer to Las Vegas that had previously always limited their relations with “the city of sins”, as it is nicknamed by the rest of the country. Among these, the most relevant in the sports field was the NCAA, the organization that manages the highly popular US school championships, which in fact make up all American sport that is not professional.
With this latest push, Las Vegas has definitively become the new most sought-after destination for North American sport, and as an effect of this it has contributed to erasing from the national sports scene a city historically closely linked to sport such as Oakland, which has long been grappling with profound problems economic, administrative and social.
In 2020 Oakland’s historic football team, the Raiders, was the first to move to Nevada, where they are based at Allegiant Stadium. In Oakland, the Raiders shared the stadium with the Athletics, the baseball team that became famous even outside the United States because it was told in the film Moneyball. For two years the Athletics were the last team in Oakland and they seem to have tried hard to stay there, but the difficulties encountered in building a new stadium have not been overcome. So the property began planning for the move: just Thursday of this week it obtained final approval from the state of Nevada for the construction and public funding of a new baseball stadium in Las Vegas at a cost of approximately 1 billion and a half dollars.
While awaiting the Athletics’ transfer, which will still take years, the city is preparing for another momentous event. In November it will officially become the venue for a Formula 1 Grand Prix, which will be held at night in a street circuit with the main straight on the so-called “Strip”, the avenue where the largest number of the most famous hotels and casinos in the city are concentrated. It will be the third World Championship race hosted in the United States, after Austin and Miami. And in the meantime, discussions also continue about a new NBA team for the city, something LeBron James has also recently talked about, possibly interested in being part of it: «I’d like to bring a team here sooner or later, it would be extraordinary» he said after playing it with the Lakers last October.
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